What 2016 taught me

What did you learn in 2016? It was a challenging year, but I learned the blessing isn't a storm free life, but God's peace and presence in the storms.

What did you learn in 2016? I learned a lot. But I can’t begin to measure what 2016 taught me.

It wasn’t my best year in concrete ways. I lost count of the challenges and financial setbacks somewhere around June.

Only to find higher and higher hills each month, culminating in complete physical and technological breakdowns that have left me physically wounded and without my computer to write and at least virtually step outside this broken body.

God is forcing me to BE STILL so completely right now. I’ve been trying to revel in the stillness despite its frustrations, and listen in it.

I have made no attempt to blog until I couldn’t let go of God’s sweet presence with me this morning. I am slowly and painfully typing this on my phone. But I wanted to write this down at least for myself.

I had times this year that I was so sad, I struggled to breathe in my despair. I felt hurt and inadequate, alone.

But what I learned there was what made me realize in the end, 2016 was exceptional in ways that defy measuring.

I drew closer and closer to God, pressing in, crying out for guidance and solace. I wept, arms outstretched to heaven, praying, groaning. Mostly seeking His answers and peace.

And I learned the greater blessing in that.
The blessing isn't a storm free life, but God's peace and presence in the storms. Click To Tweet

This morning, I was reading in Isaiah, chapter 65 God’s promises for His people and I ached with hope.

“I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.

No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.

They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭65:19-24‬ ‭ESV‬‬

After spending this year immersed in such a tremendously broken world, oh! how I long for this day of God’s promises: long lives and children who always grow up and personal health and prosperity.

If 2016 taught me anything, it is that without God, all we have are the storms of this life without any hope or joy or peace.

What did you learn in 2016? It was a challenging year, but I learned the blessing isn't a storm free life, but God's peace and presence in the storms.
With God, we still have storms. Sometimes, they are even more challenging with being rejected by the world and attacked by Satan.

But we have PEACE.

A peace that makes no sense outside of Christ, but is so real and so profound that I know as hard as this year has been, for all the losses financially and emotionally and physically, I’ve been blessed spiritually beyond measure.

I’ve grown in how I process my hurts and fears. I’ve grown in how I respond more than react.

Each storm prepared me for the next. While I would have rather not had the challenges, I would not trade the reliance on Christ I’ve gained.

Each type of season passes. Both busy and slow, joyful and difficult seasons eventually give way.

Every season passes - both joyful and difficult seasons give way, only God is eternal. Click To Tweet

I wouldn’t mind a season of fewer struggles, yet I know I’m heading into 2017 facing some difficulties that may not make for an easier year.

But when I gave up my life to follow Christ, I gained back a life that is blessed beyond measure in ways that cannot be counted.

I am still human and struggle against grief and fear, but through overcoming this year, I have an underlying current of trust and hope that the end of Isaiah speaks to so beautifully.

He writes a stunning dichotomy of God’s wrath and punishment juxtaposed against prophecies of Christ’s redemption of His people and glorious eternity in Heaven.

Joy and pain balanced with hope and promise, which is a pretty good way to end 2016. Happy New Year!

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Bloom in Any Season

I was crying, running on vapors, trying to do it all myself. Why do I keep forgetting I didn't get this far alone? I need Him to bloom in any season.

Last Sunday, I held this beautiful rose in my hand as it bloomed defiantly in November. I heard God’s quiet whisper,

“Even this rose can bloom in any season.”

What wonderful encouragement! I have been truly relying on God during this difficult season in the Army, tired but coping.

And isn’t that when the bottom falls out? the minute we think we have it all together? the minute we try to do it ourselves .  .  .

God was encouraging me after the month we’ve had.

My husband has been gone 18 hour days, 6-7 days a week, most Army related but some hunting, and selfishly, I get tired of being ‘all the adults.‘ I was on vapors, holding on desperately for a break. When making frozen pizza seems overwhelming, I’ve hit rock bottom. I thought I had no more to give.

But God was also preparing & instructing me for the week to come.

Monday, the text message came, “Don’t expect me home.”

At all, for at least 72 hours, maybe a week. No warning, no planning ahead. Just gone. Not in war, not deployed. Yet, tiny heartbreaking nights that he just isn’t home.

I was crying, running on vapors, trying to do it all myself. Why do I keep forgetting I didn't get this far alone? I need Him to bloom in any season.

A piece of sensitive equipment (read expensive) went missing and the entire unit was put on lockdown. It wasn’t done appropriately. Soldiers were left with no food, denied necessary medications, while others were let walk to the convenience store or go home to tend to pets.

My husband was stressed and furious. If there was a way to make this situation more disastrous and less compassionate, they found it. Helplessly watching it unfold via text message was so incredibly difficult. Knowing how this would ripple through every inch of our next weeks, I could feel my anxiety building.

But I tried to push it down, jump those hurdles without breathing hard. We can do this! I’m not who I used to be. I’ve totally got this  . . .

. . . but the pressure built inside. I could feel God mentally tapping me on the shoulder, trying to get my attention.

“Even this rose can bloom in any season.”

But I didn’t want to bloom. I wanted to BE MAD. I mean had a good reason to lose it, right?

By day 3, I broke my #30DaysWithoutComplaint challenge. While I tried to be strong and calm, I ran out of steam. I cried. I complained, launching into the unfairness of it all, but I didn’t feel any better.

I was cooking  two separate, multi-step meals for a friend whose husband was having surgery, cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner for my house, making a week’s worth of meals for my husband, plus packing a suitcase, trying not to forget anything since we live 45 minutes from his training facility.

Meanwhile I was trying to parent, home-school, check in with family, fellowship with friends, deal with accidental Facebook drama, and take care of my personal needs, like eating. And deal with a 5-year-old who was having her own missing daddy breakdown. When I would look up from the chaos, all I could see was the dust, dog hair, and general filth and clutter taking over my house.

I was running out of steam because I was trying to do it all. I. Me. ME.

Ephesians 2:8 ESV  “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”

Where was God in there? Yeah, I was giving Him a nod, keeping my exterior calm, but I wasn’t giving Him the anxiety in my heart, not asking Him to guide my emotions or attitude.

NOT MY OWN DOING. I didn’t change and grow through my own will, why can’t I remember this?

Why can’t I remember I will never outgrow needing Him?

I was trying to multi-task, poorly, trying to avoid burning down my house literally (I do have a nicely browned potholder now) and figuratively, not destroy months of work I’ve done living some big changes Christ is working in me.

And God whispered, you can bloom in ANY season when you live by faith. #BloominAnySeason Click To Tweet

Again seeing the rose in my mind, I heard God calling me to bloom in THIS hard season. I opened my bible app and let it start reading to me while I worked.

James 1:3 ESV For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

Just last week, I wrote about the beauty of our marriage through the testing we’ve survived, the way we’ve learned to rely on each other. So did I mean it?

When I wanted to cry, I said, God “let me put down my agenda for this week and pick up YOURS.”

My prayers changed from bring him home to ‘how can I be calm despite the storm, help me prioritize,  and be a blessing and encouragement to my husband and friends.’

Why can't I remember I will never outgrow needing Him? Can't do this life on my own.… Click To Tweet

It was draining and emotional, but I managed to focus on one moment at a time and to be a blessing when my husband finally came home frustrated and exhausted.

Instead of demanding he talk, I let him work through his feelings. When he was sharp, I took a deep breath instead of firing back. I offered whatever support he needed and let him set the tone for the weekend, so he would have the fortitude to face the new week, including a 24 hour duty on Thanksgiving.

One way I learned to bloom in any season was to realize that sometimes messy can be beautiful because the house doesn’t get our attention – when we give it to people instead.

We are in the last years of his career, but the constant trials of Army life are surrounding us. We can focus on the difficulties or know that we’re being shaped and pruned to face every struggle, beautifully able to bloom in any season.

 

Just Another Day – Waiting with Hope

Waiting with hope for answers to prayer can be the toughest challenge of our lives. But what does the day before your miracle look like? Just another day.

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Waiting with hope for answers to prayer can be the toughest challenge of our lives. We wait not knowing what the answer will be or when it will come. We try to have faith in the waiting. But what does the day before your miracle look like? Just another day.

After a long cold winter, maybe I’m just ready for some sunshine, but I have found that I’m usually seeking HOPE when I come to this special day on the calendar. My verse of the day was this sweet promise in my devotional this morning.

Waiting with Hope - Surely there is a future, and your HOPE will not be cut off. Proverbs 23:18 What does the day before a miracle look like? Just Another Day/Heaven Not Harvard

This verse was so encouraging in my present circumstances, praying for my own healing and the salvation of several people especially precious to me.

I’m trying to live faithfully, knowing I can’t fast forward to see how my prayers are answered. Only God knows if He is moving in their hearts or using my present weakness in some way.

Psalm 119:30 ESV “I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me.”

Living my witness despite challenges is just part of the Christian mission on this side of heaven.

I’m trying to embrace the maturity and strength being built in me through obedience, but I’ll confess I struggle with hope some days, without seeing any visible results.

I pray alone. I read my bible alone. And I wait alone, sometimes wondering if God knows how desperately I long to share these moments. Is He really listening?

And then I get a gentle reminder of the hope He has planned for us.

I opened my Time Hop app to see what was happening in my life on today’s date over the past several years. As I scrolled through the images, I realized today’s date: March 23.

I looked at back at this day from 2010 and thought, Wow, I didn’t know that my entire life was going to change in just 24 hours.

It was just another day.

Waiting with hope for answers to prayer can be the toughest challenge of our lives. But what does the day before your miracle look like? Just another day.

I didn’t know it was the last day before an answer to prayer.

What does the day before a miracle look like? Just Another Day - Waiting with Hope. Click To Tweet

I had been praying since my teens to someday become a mother. After years struggling with infertility, a necessary hysterectomy had ended my hopes of ever giving birth, but we were pursuing adoption.

After years of saving money, months of searching for the right agency, more months of gathering paperwork, on March 23, 2010, we were on the adoption agency waiting list, praying to be chosen by a birth family, wondering if it would ever happen.

It was just another day.

But the next morning, my miracle happened! We had been matched with our birth mother and a baby girl was on the way.

Hope is having joy while waiting for answers, for miracles. But what does the day before your miracle look like? No sneak preview! It's Just Another Day!

I will treasure the joy of that moment forever. My heart raced and time seemed to freeze when the agency representative said, “We have a match for you!”

But this isn’t really about our adoption, it is about the day before an answer comes.

I went to work, read the newspaper and longingly watched a friend prepare for her baby’s imminent arrival. It was just another day.

I had no sneak preview that this was the last day of waiting.

God answered my prayers when He was ready and beyond all our hopes. Our daughter is a cherished blessing: beautiful and sassy and precocious and rotten and wonderful. I’m blessed more than I deserve.

But on today’s date in 2010, I didn’t know she existed or that I would be celebrating Mother’s Day just a few weeks later with a brand new baby.

An answer felt 100 years away.

In some ways, it was a day of tremendous sadness. I had been asked by several people if we had heard anything from the agency yet. We had no idea if any end was in sight.

Hope is faith in things unseen, trusting while waiting not knowing when our waiting will end. Click To Tweet

I came home from work and cried. Praying passionately, I gave it over to God, asking Him to bless our waiting, to bless our lives with the right child or no child if that was His plan.

I surrendered to obedience. Like I must continue to do today with these new hopes and prayers.

2 Chronicles 31:21 ESV “And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered.”

God will prosper (maybe in unexpected ways) the obedient service of my life, seeking God with all my heart. He will be my hope while I wait for His answers.

Because I’ve learned waiting for God’s answers is really trusting Him.

And I can look back and know He had a perfect plan every step of the way, all for my good, and He knows how this story ends.

Today is just another day, but tomorrow .  .  .

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Nothing is Wasted

The trials preceding this present darkness had purpose in the preparation for this moment. Nothing is Wasted in our lives.

Trusting God that nothing is wasted is sometimes hard.

Sometimes when life is on an easier street, we do a good job feeling like we’ve put it all in His hands, but when the speed bumps start coming and getting bigger and bigger, we start to ask questions. We start wondering “Why me?” or “Why him?” or just “Why?”

And it gets downright disastrous. How can a loving, merciful God let THIS happen? Whatever your THIS might be. I have a lot of “This”es in my life.

Today, I stand in an easier stretch of life than some I’ve had, but harder than others, trying really hard to learn to trust so I have an anchor when things aren’t smooth.

One thing I’ve struggled with is why God didn’t open my eyes sooner, why wasn’t I saved earlier. I was striving to be good all by myself, and falling short, then falling away. I sometimes get so frustrated that I wasted so many years of this too short life being angry, snarky, bitter, negative, and miserable without Jesus.

And I don’t know why, but I know God loves me. He wouldn’t have let me go through something without purpose. This is where I cling to a passage in Romans.

Romans 8:28 ESV “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”The trials preceding this present darkness had purpose in the preparation for this moment. Nothing is Wasted in our lives.

And I cling to the times in my life that I now can see God’s hand in retrospect. The ladies I understand better because I’ve worn their shoes.

One story, not mine, that I think is particularly beautiful (even in the middle of the mess) is that of a dear friend.

She became ‘surprise’ pregnant before her oldest son’s first birthday. Having babies so close was already going to be ‘interesting’, but then during her husband’s deployment, she learned the baby was chromosomally gifted (Down’s Syndrome).

She was alone and struggling with what the diagnosis would mean for her baby and family. She then spent the next two years living in a world of appointments, specialists, therapists, and surgeons. Her whole life became an emergency. She had two children under two with significant needs, all-the-time.

Hard doesn’t begin to touch it. Many days were joyful, but even good days, had challenges so demanding and draining.

I would get tired FOR her because she didn’t have time to be tired. We cried together on the phone many times. This new reality was no joke. She was on her own often due to her husband’s military obligations, struggling to juggle the needs of both boys and herself.

She was worn out, but growing stronger, finding her stride. Then he was diagnosed with a form of leukemia.

And somehow she came out swinging. This battle is ridiculously hard. She has to live two hours away from her oldest son and husband for six 30 day cycles of chemo. Six months of living in the hospital, which has unforeseen expenses, like gas money and $300 a month parking which are not covered by insurance, or more recently a bill for $128,000, that she handled in stride, knowing that God has an answer.

She is watching one son lose his ginger locks to chemo, while her oldest begs her not to leave him again. She has to live in isolation for about a third of each cycle so she doesn’t risk getting a germ that could kill her baby in his immuno-compromised state. I don’t want to sugar coat it; this is a whole new level of suckitude.

BUT – from the outside I can see perhaps what she can’t yet. How unbelievably gorgeous she is.

She had a week to wrap her head around the diagnosis, plan to be gone for most of 8 months, and made binders and care packages. She is still calling me to check on me!! She is witnessing and ministering to her fellow moms on the hospital floor. She is covered in poop and puke daily, but they are having dance parties, shaking it off with Taylor Swift. That is Will’s favorite song, no matter how badly the chemo is making him feel, he can summon dance moves for Taylor.

If you want to see another cute one, Click here to see the Facebook Post by William’s Warriors of his mom, nurses and even the doc getting in on the action. Definitely youtube worthy!

None of this is the easy part, but I can see that the trials preceding this present darkness gave her the tools and strength to handle the cancer and all its fallout. Even as she battles exhaustion, I know that she never could have handled this if she hadn’t run a lifetime of metaphorical marathons for the past two years.

The trials preceding this present darkness had purpose in the preparation for this moment.… Click To Tweet

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

We all love this verse and cling to it in the dark times, but remember verses 4-10? God told them to settle down, build houses, marry, have children, and watch those children get married. The exile was to last 70 years, more than a lifetime for many hearing this message, but they were to have hope that God hadn’t forgotten them, and his plan included the exile.

How do you hang onto hope when the darkness of a loss or a particular struggle might last your entire life?

We have to know that nothing is wasted. Nothing!

A difficult day or a lifetime thorn in our flesh is part of God’s perfect plan for all those who follow him. But His plan stretches into eternity; a lifetime is but a blink. Our perspective of trust has to believe that the ripples of our lives can be used and have purpose beyond us.

I think about my friend, who last night lay with red rimmed eyes, begging for sleep, as her son was wild and miserable at 1 a.m. But woke ready for another dance party. Her witness, her love for her son, her passion and exuberance are reaching people for Christ even as she grows in grace and beauty, even as the Lord smooths out her rough edges.

When I’m broken by life, I can always call her – always. Hours away, I didn’t know what I can do for her, but I started a fundraising page so that she would at least know she is being loved and prayed over by many. Sometimes in the darkness, that quiet love is more powerful than we know.

Friends and strangers came together and raised enough to cover all their expenses. God showed her tangibly He was present even on the cancer ward. He used us to encourage and minister to her.

I wrote this almost a year ago, but even more than in the moment, I can see nothing is wasted. Through this she ministered to many, living Christ in the midst of chaos.

Now, on the other side of cancer, she can see how much God used that difficulty in her life to bring her into the lives of others, to instruct her heart, to refine her for His purposes.